Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Opening surprise

The Streatham and Brixton season may be halfway through, but mine is about to begin, with a game on Sunday. Which means I have to think all the thoughts about my opening repertoire that I should have been thinking over the last six chess-free months. But I've never been able to work properly without the pressure of a deadline and this applies as much to opening preparation as to anything else. You never have to get it done - it can always be put off for another game or another month or another season - so I never really get it done. Not properly. I read, or flick through books, I make decisions that I promptly change the following day and then change back just as swiftly once I remember all the reasons for the original decision.

What to play against 1.d4, if White doesn't allow the Nimzo? For years, now, I've been pondering whether to play the Queen's Indian Defence. The Benoni? Too risky. The Bogo? Not quite good enough. The QGD? Too hard to generate counterplay. The Semi-Slav? Bg5 is a pain. Yet at one time or another, I've "decided" I would play all of these. I have books on all of them. I have four books on the Queen's Indian Defence.

The best of these is probably the most recent, Peter Wells' volume in the optimistically-entitled series Chess Explained. Still, if the series title is misleading, the writing is not: Wells, who has written some justly-praised guides in the past, has produced another good one. Good enough, I hope, for me to use it as the launch-pad for a new opening experiment. At least until until I decide it's too theoretical, too passive, unsuitable for email chess, unsuitable for use against weaker players, unsuitable for use against stronger players, unsuitable because of various move-order issues arising from 1.c4 or 1.d4 - or because I play a couple of games with it, get beat and give it up as a result.

(I have, as I recall, played it before - but only once in an OTB game. I won. I gave it up nevertheless. Now that's what I call unreasonably high expectations.)

The other books I have on the Queen's Indian were written by Bogdan Lalic - always an author I like, as our styles are similarly dull - by Yrjölä and Tella and by Jacob Aagaard.

Aagaard has written some good books, but his Everyman Queen's Indian Defence is some way short of classic (although not down to the level of some books produced by that publishing house: the absence of effective proof-reading is unfortunately all too manifest in all too many of them). Still, it's workable enough, or so I thought after buying it - and I read it pretty thoroughly, by my standards, anyway, in the lead-up to a tournament I played in Oban, in the west of Scotland, in November 2004. (It was the second time I'd played that tournament: the first time, I played on top board in the final round, lost and won nothing, although my game subsequently featured in the Telegraph chess column.)

Travelling to Oban entailed a flight to Prestwick, a train journey into Glasgow and then another, slow but spectacular, up into the mountains to the north and then a final descent towards the coastal town. I read Aagaard's book for most of the journey and in my hotel room afterwards (and would probably have read it between the station and the hotel, had not my mobile rung, leading to a long conversation with a tearful friend about the sudden death of her cat). I was satisfied with my work and resolved that, if I drew the Black pieces in my opening game and my opponent gave me the opportunity, I would give it a try.

So off I went to the tournament hall, in the hotel where I was staying, to look up the draw. My name was on the right hand side: I did, indeed have the Black pieces. Top board, too. I looked to see who I was drawn against. My opponent was International Master Jacob Aagaard.


Tom Chivers said...

And did he then play 1. e4?

ejh said...

Yes he did! It was a tough Breyer Variation: he had to sacrifice just before the time control and at very least I should have drawn. But I didn't. In the post mortem - apart from slagging off most of the books he's written - he suggested that I panicked. At the time, I demurred, but in retrospect he could have been right.

Curiously, though (or not that curiously when you're past forty) my memory is at variance with the facts. I played Aagaard in the second round, having won with Black in the first!

Tom Chivers said...

Whatever makes the story work, works!

So he does the books primarily as a hack job then?

Isn't he the one who did ' Excelling at Technical Chess ' - I thought that had a good reputation?!

Anonymous said...


I don't know about their books in general but I thought Sadler's "queen's gambit declined" from a couple of years ago was pretty good - mainly because it has a stab at explaining principles rather than just listing variations. In full 'disgusted of Streatham' mode, however, I am rather cross that they don't use capital letters for the title.

Also, EVERYMAN (again their choice of use of capitals) published the 3rd edition of Play the French - well ptf actually butI refuse to follow them down the road to anarchy. Of course that book was great before it got to them.

Worth pointing out that analysing a moderately obscure sub variation of the Exchange, page 78 contains a suggestion attributed to a certain "Justin Horton". Curiously he becomes the rather more formal "J. Horton" on page 79.

ejh said...

It's my chess claim to fame. When writing to Mr Watson I didn't bother telling him that both variations were found by a computer program.

Those books are quite good but I've hardly read an Everyman book without an incorrect diagram, a wrongly reproduced variation, even reference to games elsewhere in the book which do not actually appear. Their production values are very poor.

Incidentally, the hot line in the QID is 5.Qc2 - thought harmless until very recently - 5...Bb7 6.Bg2 c5 7.d5! Even as I write this variation is on the board at Wijk Aan Zee in the Aronian-Carlsen game.

Anonymous said...

One of the nice things about being rubbish at chess is that you don't have to worry about what the hot theory is.... or indeed any theory at all really.

Tom Chivers said...

Btw, Gambit sent me Peter Wells's book on the QID for free a while back!

He's not a brilliant prose stylist but makes his points pretty well I thought. I don't think it was very useful that the games were annotated to the end - because often all trace of the QID has gone by the end of the middlegame, so there was a lot of wasted space in this respect. On the other hand, the annotations remained interesting.

Unfortunately I personally find it very hard to learn much from chess books - they nearly all leave me cold, or at the most with a superficial sense of what they're getting at. Not sure why this is, think it's something to do with the way I (don't learn.) So its instructional value I find hard to assess - I would say I learnt more from Wells's QID than from 'My System' for instance, but I would say from 'My System' I learnt almost nothing. Zurich 1953 leaves me cold as a corpse.

I think, possibly, I am not an ideal chess book reviewer, you know . . .

ejh said...

Btw, Gambit sent me Peter Wells's book on the QID for free a while back!


Tom Chivers said...

I was playing in a rest of world match against 17th CC World Champ Ivar Bern. It went into a QID, and I emailed Gambit the details, and said if they sent the book it might help us, whilst also being pulicity for them.

& indeed I quoted some analysis and evaluation from the book - & that put us off a speculative line we had intended . . . which unfortunately meant we transposed into the Bogo. So the books presence in the game was surprisingly short-lived but still useful.

Anonymous said...


you might not be able to learn anything from chess books but you've clearly mastered the art of blagging from somewhere.

Tom Chivers said...

The review copy of Deep Fritz for the blog never arrived from Chessbase, however!